The answer to this question is still incomplete, but there were some encouraging signs to be seen during April, so we'll look at the positive sides first.
On the throwing end of the equation, both Rasheed Marshall and Charles Hales made definite and noticeable improvement. Rasheed continued to refine his decision making and reading abilities, and as a result cut down on the number of mistakes he made in the passing game. He also demonstrated a bit more accuracy on deeper passes, especially on a number of seam routes utilizing the slot receivers and tight ends.
Hales mad good strides in his recognition and also improved his accuracy a good deal, and demonstrated that he should be a solid backup for the 2003 season.
On the receiving side, Nickolich Award winner John Pennington continued to display the consistency and bulldog tenacity that has him at a starting receiver spot heading into the fall. While Pennington isn't likely to jump three feet off the ground and catch the ball over two defenders, he's developed the ability to find an opening, make a catch and move the chains. And his blocking is simply the best at his position.
Travis Garvin demonstrated the great leaps of performance that many players make after a year in the program, and he provide a good passing target after seeing most of his contributions come on the running of reverses in 2002. Garvin, like many players who must sit out a year, took a while to get back into game shape and comfortable in the Mountaineer system, and the results of the layoff showed in his performance on the field. Transfer Milo Austin also showed some flashes of ability after moving over from defensive back, but he faces the same challenges that Garvin did a year ago, as he sat out the 2002 season as a transfer. Walkon Nathan Forse was a spring game star with seven catches, and provides a bigger target for Mountianeer quarterbacks.
There were also disappointments during the spring, however, and those are what lead to the conclusion that the jury is still out in anwering this question. Aaron Neal, who was hopefully poised for a breakout senior season, was sidelined for much of the spring with an injury, and although he is healthy now, the missed work, especially in the areas of developing timing and consistency with his quarterbacks, might prove to be too much of an obstacle to overcome. John Scott, who hoped to make the move from running back, likewise missed a number of practices due to injury, and Miquelle Henderson's broken leg also affected this snake-bitten position and cost him a couple of missed sessions at the end of the spring.
As has been the case for the past couple of seasons, WVU is again counting on players that weren't eligible in the spring to help out immediately in the fall. Chris Henry and Brandon Myles, both rangy and speedy targets, are being eagerly anticipated by WVU fans and coaches alike. However, as we've seen in many cases before, it's not reasonable to count on a player who has a) never taken a college snap, and b) been forced to sit out a year. That's not to say than Henry or Myles won't be able to produce, but simply to point out that players in that position can't be counted on to simply leap onto the field and become a star.
These negatives all served to hamper the passing game somewhat during the spring. It's not a question of ability at this point - WVU's receving corps does appear to have the talent to get the job done, especially when combined with the improvement demonstrated by the quarterbacks. However, the lost practice repetitions caused by injury and other reasons simply can't be made up quickly - it takes time to develop the timing and confidence that outstanding games are built upon.
For those reasons, the players' summer workouts (unsupervised by the coaches) as well as fall camp will be critical in answering this question completely. The peices all appear to be in place - the challenge that remains is putting them together.
Up next: Will an explosive return man be found to jumpstart WVU's return game?